Destined to be a miner, like his immigrant father, Koçak takes pride in being a first. He had hoped to be the first mine engineer of Turkish descent. As it turned out, he was “in the pit” at 16. With little formal education, he went on to become not only the first alderman but also the first teacher at a police school of Turkish descent in Flanders. In interviews, he’s often spoken of his dream to become the first Turkish mayor.
While his fame rose nationally, Koçak remained quite controversial at the local level. He was engaged in a bitter rivalry with colleague Ahmet Koç, who, in spite of Koçak’s popularity with the media, attracted more votes in their hometown of Beringen, Limburg. Earlier this year, both Koçak and Koç were suspended shortly from the college of aldermen after remaining absent from meetings.
Beringen has a large Turkish community, and many see Koçak as a media figure, with little time for his home town. Koçak meanwhile, is disappointed in SP.A, claiming the party never gave him a chance at the national level. Recently, news broke that neither Koçak nor Koç would be candidates on the local SP.A list, which is headed by local strong man Maurice Webers. Koçak and Koç are replaced by no less than four Turkish candidates, including Duygu Akdemir, Koç’s wife, who has a political career overshadowing her husband’s. Koçak is due to announce his candidature on the local Open VLD list.
That Koçak started off his career in a left-wing party is not unusual. The left has always embraced the children of immigration. That before long most parties would have candidates with migrant roots was predicted, as one could hardly expect all immigrants to hold leftwing views. Koçak’s story of individual emancipation fits the liberal party perfectly; but will that make him the first Turkish liberal to make it to parliament?